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Program notes written by
Jeffrey Sykes, PhD.
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1. Love's Geometry
2. Into the Mystic
3. On the Wind of Dreams
4. Celestial Strings
5. Dreams & Prayers
Clara Wieck Schumann (1819-1896)Scherzo con passione in D minor, op. 10 (1838)
It comes as a surprise to many listeners that most of the chamber music of the late eighteenth and early nineteenth centuries—including the great chamber music of Haydn, Mozart, Beethoven, and Schubert—was written for performance by “amateurs” in private homes. Before the days of radio, CDs, and mp3s, if you wanted to listen to music, your options were quite limited. Either you went to one of the relatively few concerts in your area—keep in mind the difficulty of traveling even short distances in those days—or you played music yourself at home. There was a tremendous market for music written for “amateurs” for “entertainment” at home. The talents of these “amateurs” varied widely (and the quality of the “entertainment,” too, I’m sure), some being extraordinarily accomplished (professionals in disguise, as it were), others considerably less so. Generally, these “amateurs” were the daughters and sons of upper and middle class families. Typically, women played the keyboard (either the harpsichord or fortepiano in Mozart’s day); men played the string and woodwind instruments. (It was not considered seemly for women to hold cellos between their legs, flutes to their lips, or violins upon their bosoms.) Wise composers kept this in mind as they were planning their musical ventures, and rarely wrote beyond the average performance abilities of the day.
Mozart set to work quickly on the first of the series, the Piano Quartet in G minor, K. 478, finishing it in October of 1785, and by December, Hoffmeister had the parts engraved and available for sale. Hoffmeister thought the quartet was too difficult and worried that the public would not buy it. In an attempt to cut his imagined losses, he bought out Mozart from the remainder of his commission. (Nine months later, Mozart composed his second quartet anyway, the Piano Quartet in E-flat Major, K. 493; it was published by the rival firm of Artaria.)
Some time ago, a single quartet of Mozart (for fortepiano, one violin, one viola, and violoncello) was engraved and published, which is very artistically composed and in performance needs the utmost precision in all the four parts, but even when well played, or so it seems, is able and intended to delight only connoisseurs of music.... Many another piece keeps some countenance, even when indifferently performed; but in truth one can hardly bear listening to this product of Mozart’s when it falls into mediocre amateurish hands and is negligently played.... What a difference when this much-advertised work of art is performed by four skilled musicians who have studied it carefully, in a quiet room where the sound of every note cannot escape the listening ear, and in the presence of one or two attentive persons!
Ludwig van Beethoven (1770-1827)
Composed 1798 in Vienna
One of these “experimental” genres was the string trio for violin, viola, and cello. Beethoven wrote five string trios before he ever attempted a string quartet; once he completed his first quartets, he never returned to the string trio. Some commentators assert that Beethoven chose to write trios early in his career to test his skills at handling string instruments in an “easier” genre while avoiding a direct comparison with the string quartet masterpieces of Haydn and Mozart. But on examination, this argument does not hold water. As Alec Robertson points out, it is more difficult to achieve richness of tone and variety of texture using three instruments than four. As it turns out, the string trio is a genre that was well-suited to the style galant—a style that emphasizes charm and tunefulness, and rarely makes serious demands on the listener—and less well-suited to Beethoven’s blending of high classical and early romantic styles. Beethoven abandoned the string trio not because it was an “easier” genre, but because it was a less appropriate medium for his musical ideas.
The String Trio in G Major, op. 9, no. 1, again like Haydn’s London Symphonies, has a slow introduction that announces the work’s seriousness of purpose. It continues with melodies, motives, and developmental techniques that owe much to the example of Haydn. (Beethoven had studied with Haydn in the early 1790s. He claimed to have learned nothing from the older master, but his music belies his claim.) The second movement has a mesmerizing, rocking movement that reminds me of a lullaby. The third movement is a scherzo full of typically unpredictable maneuvers. The trio concludes with a lively, sparkling Presto that again owes much to the influence of Haydn.
Piano Trio in E-flat Major, D. 929Composed November 1827 in Vienna
Schubert wrote two great piano trios in 1827, the Piano Trio in B-flat Major, D. 898, and the Piano Trio in E-flat Major, D. 929. Today, audiences seem to prefer the generous spirit, good nature, and relative compactness of the B-flat trio, and critics invariably comment on the considerable length of the E-flat trio. But audiences of the nineteenth century felt just the opposite: Robert Schumann, for example, found the E-flat trio more “spirited, masculine, and dramatic in tone” than its B-flat counterpart. The truth of the matter is that both trios are incomparable masterpieces created by a composer who was only thirty years old—and both are quite substantial works. As the critic James Keller points out, Schubert rarely gives the listener the impression of being in a hurry—Schumann described Schubert’s music as being of “heavenly length”—and to fully appreciate these works, one must surrender to their leisurely sense of the passage of time.
The first movement opens with a striking motive stated by all three instruments in unison. The movement is cast in a classic sonata form and has a strong sense of dramatic motion. The slow movement is one of Schubert’s greatest creations, an impassioned instrumental song without words. As it turns out, it is derived from a song with words. Schubert’s friend Leopold Sonnleithner reported that the tune of this movement came from a Swedish folksong “Se solen sjunker” (“The sun has set”) which Schubert had heard in a recital in 1827. Sonnleithner’s comments were widely discounted until the musicologist Manfred Willfort rediscovered the Swedish folksong in 1978. Although Schubert did not copy the tune of “Se solen sjunker” directly, he drew great inspiration both from its melody and its treading accompaniment. The third movement, a scherzo, features tightly-controlled canonic writing. The fourth movement is vast, covering nearly 750 measures; Schubert himself expressed concerns about its length, and authorized judicious cuts. The Swedish melody of the slow movement reappears several times in this wide-ranging harmonic landscape, most notably at the very end of the finale, transformed into the major key, lending a sense of catharsis to the entire work.
Pierre Jalbert (b. 1967)Trio for violin, cello & piano (1998)
Pierre Jalbert is one of the most highly regarded American composers of his generation, earning widespread notice for his richly colored and superbly crafted scores. Focusing primarily on instrumental works, Jalbert has developed a musical language that is engaging, expressive, and deeply personal. Among his many honors are the Rome Prize, the BBC Masterprize, the Chamber Music Society of Lincoln Center’s Stoeger Award, given biennially “in recognition of significant contributions to the chamber music repertory,” and a 2010 American Academy of Arts and Letters award.
His music has been performed throughout the United States and abroad, including four Carnegie Hall performances of his orchestral music. Mr. Jalbert has served as Composer -in-Residence with the California Symphony (1999-2002), and Music in the Loft in Chicago (2003). Select commissions and performances include those of the Ying, Borromeo, Maia, Enso, Chiara, and Escher String Quartets; violinist Midori; and the symphony orchestras of London, Budapest, Seattle, Houston, Fort Worth, Colorado, and Albany among others.
The second movement, “Agnus Dei,” represents the sacred, and is mysterious and lyrical in character. The structure of the movement is modeled after the 3-part form of the Agnus Dei prayer:
It opens with a violin melody, full of pitch bends, played over a cello drone. This melody is then passed on to the cello, finally cadencing with all three instruments. This material is then repeated (much like the repetition of the 2nd line in the prayer), but at a different pitch level. The music then moves on to a more developmental section, still containing the original tune, but ultimately ends up in a different place (much like the last line of the prayer). While working on this movement, Mother Teresa passed away, therefore I chose to dedicate this movement to her life and works.
Kathryn Mishell (b. 1940)Elegy for violin & piano
Pianist, composer, educator and radio host, Kathryn Mishell was born in Los Angeles, where she received her early musical training. Her college and graduate work were done at Pomona College, The University of Kansas, and the University of Southern California. During these years she was a piano student of John Perry and a composition student of John Pozdro and later Ingolf Dahl. Ms. Mishell has composed over one hundred works for solo piano, chamber ensembles, orchestra, dance and theater. She is the recipient of the 2011 international Sylvia Glickman Prize awarded by the International Alliance of Women in Music for her Piano Quartet. Her Rhapsody for Cello and Piano was performed at Carnegie’s Weill Recital Hall in January 2012. Ms. Mishell was producer and host from 2000-2010 of Into the Light, a weekly radio program devoted to the music of women composers. Artistic Director of Salon Concerts series in Austin, where she performs regularly, she also maintains a large class of piano students and has twice been awarded Austin’s Outstanding Pre-Collegiate Teaching Award. Ms. Mishell describes her Elegy for violin & piano.
Witold Lutosławski (1913-1994)Recitativo e arioso for violin and piano (1951)
Rabih Abou-Khalil (b. 1957)Arabian Waltz for piano, violin & cello, arranged by Serouj Kradjian
(Notes by S. Kradjian)
One of Lebanon’s most accomplished and innovative musicians, Abou-Khalil left his native Beirut at the beginning of the civil war. Already a virtuoso oud player—the Arab short-necked lute—he attended the Academy of Music in Munich where he studied classical flute. As a composer, he blends elements from Arab music traditions with classical and jazz references, using different combinations of Western instruments with his own oud, the flute, as well as Arabic percussion. Originally composed for string quartet, this arrangement for piano trio of Arabian Waltz opens with an improvisation in the piano imitating the oud. The piece maintains the three-beat pulse of a waltz, albeit the beats are of unequal length, and is driven by complex additive rhythms and improvisatory melodic lines.
Olivier Messiaen (1880-1959)Quartet for the End of Time for clarinet, violin, cello, and piano (1940-41)
1. Liturgy of crystal. Between three and four o’clock in the morning, the awakening of the birds: a blackbird or a solo nightingale improvises, surrounded by efflorescent sound, by a halo of trills lost high in the trees... 2. Vocalise, for the Angel who announces the end of Time. The first and third parts (very short) evoke the power of this mighty angel, a rainbow upon his head and clothed with a cloud, who sets one foot on the sea and one foot on the earth. In the middle section are the impalpable harmonies of heaven. In the piano, sweet cascades of blue-orange chords, enclosing in their distant chimes the almost plainchant song of the violin and violoncello. 3. Abyss of the birds. Clarinet alone. The abyss is Time with its sadness, its weariness. The birds are the opposite to Time; they are our desire for light, for stars, for rainbows, and for jubilant songs. 4. Interlude. Scherzo, of a more individual character than the other movements, but linked to them nevertheless by certain melodic recollections. 5. Praise to the Eternity of Jesus. Jesus is considered here as the Word. A broad phrase, infinitely slow, on the violoncello, magnifies with love and reverence the eternity of the Word, powerful and gentle, ... “In the beginning was the Word, and Word was with God, and the Word was God.” 6. Dance of fury, for the seven trumpets. Rhythmically, the most characteristic piece in the series. The four instruments in unison take on the aspect of gongs and trumpets (the first six trumpets of the Apocalypse were followed by various catastrophes, the trumpet of the seventh angel announced the consummation of the mystery of God). Use of added [rhythmic] values, rhythms augmented or diminished... Music of stone, of formidable, sonorous granite... 7. A mingling of rainbows for the Angel who announces the end of Time. Certain passages from the second movement recur here. The powerful angel appears, above all the rainbow that covers him... In my dreams I hear and see a catalogue of chords and melodies, familiar colours and forms... The swords of fire, these outpourings of blue-orange lava, these turbulent stars... 8. Praise to the Immortality of Jesus. Expansive solo violin, counterpart to the violoncello solo of the fifth movement. Why this second encomium? It addresses more specifically the second aspect of Jesus, Jesus the Man, the Word made flesh... Its slow ascent toward the most extreme point of tension is the ascension of man toward his God, of the child of God toward his Father, of the being made divine toward Paradise.
Featuring the Aeolus String QuartetNicholas Tavani & Rachel Shapiro, violins Gregory Luce, viola Alan Richardson, cello
Joseph Haydn (1732 - 1809)String Quartet No. 67 in F, Op. 77, no 2 “Lobkowitz” -notes by Robert Lintott
Lobkowitz was, apparently, enough taken with Haydn’s music to prompt the commission of six quartets that saw the composer return to instrumental genres. Though the commission was never completed, two of the quartets and two movements of an unfinished third were published as Opuses 77 and 103, respectively. The first two quartets were composed in 1799, but Haydn maintained the conviction that he could finish the entire commission as one set. When it became apparent that the next four quartets were not forthcoming, Haydn gave permission to Artaria and Breitkopf & Härtel to publish the two that were finished as Op. 77 in the fall of 1802 with a dedication to Prince Lobkowitz.
In Op. 33, however, Haydn began to write a Classical take on four equal voices. Previous Classical works for the quartet had focused on primarily one melodic voice—the first violin—and three accompanists. Now Haydn spread the melody throughout all four voices, but at different times, meaning that each instrument could be both melody and accompaniment in the same piece, though its role could change rapidly. This style is readily apparent in the F Major second quartet of Op. 77. Already by measure 20 of the first movement, the first violin, viola, and cello have had the melody, often in a swift dialogue. Throughout the quartet this continues, and the four voices are featured more evenly than is typical of a standard Classical quartet.
The third movement is a set of variations on an aria-like theme that is first stated by the first violin acting as a solo instrument over cello accompaniment. With this theme, Haydn sets the table for a movement that is imbued with an elegant, stately grace. As the variations develop, the other instruments of the quartet join the first violin and cello. Eventually, however, the first violin begins to play a solo passage again. This time, however, the passage resembles a Baroque partita for unaccompanied instrument, and indeed the violin acts as if it is in a world to itself, serving as counterpoint for the variations below it. When the violin finally reacquaints itself with the rest of the quartet, they join for a cadence that, seemingly, will bring the movement to a close. In truest Haydn form, though, it does not. Instead, in the place of the chord we expect to come, the ensemble once again takes the primary theme and the variations come to a quiet, dignified close. The false ending seems to be Haydn’s way of ensuring that no one takes the graceful essay on variation form too seriously.
Alexander Bryant [b. ?]Lady Isabelle Was That Kind of Woman -notes by Alexander Bryant
The Appalachian melody is not strictly dictated here as found in the recording, but strongly imitates the general trajectory and contours of the line, slightly expanding and altering itself in each representation. The piece is not meant to literally represent the struggles and triumphs of this heroic woman—it was, in the most basic sense, inspired by the sound of her name and the haunting melody I stumbled across in my research.
Dan Visconti [b. ?]Black Bend (2003) -notes by Dan Visconti
This imagery was inspired, in part, by local legends surrounding the collapse of a railroad bridge over a meandering stretch of the Cuyahoga River. While I don’t particularly believe in ghost stories, the thought of the deceased victims’ moans rising up from the river suggested to me the painful, almost supernatural power of expression which often inhabits the voice of the blues singer. Yet at the same time, certain details of the scene (i.e. the relentless “click-clack” rhythm of the doomed train) stood out to me as grotesquely comic. The performers are called upon to employ a variety of special playing techniques that recreate the wailing, overdriven sound of electric guitar playing.
Black Bend was commissioned by the Cleveland Museum of Art. (2003)
Maurice Ravel [1875–1937]String Quartet in F Major
-notes by Robert Lintott
The early twentieth century in French music is most often associated with Impressionism. Claude Debussy, by his sheer compositional force and prominence in the minds of listeners the world over, has assured this fact. Paul Dukas and Maurice Ravel, amongst others, followed in the footsteps of Debussy and created what would become an almost uniquely French musical language, the hallmark of which was an abandonment of traditional forward-driving tonality in favor of harmonic stasis. This stasis was achieved through the use of whole-tone scales that have no tonic or central focus, which allowed the music built on them to float above our expectations; never demanding the sense of completion that drives traditional tonal music. As a result, Impressionist music often failed to adhere to the standard formal structures of music.
In stark contrast to the harmonic vagueness and sincerity of Impressionism, Neoclassicism thrived on irony and an adherence to musical forms and structures codified hundreds of years earlier. In the wake of the First World War, many composers felt that the surfeit of emotion found in Romantic and Impressionistic works was not suited for a global political and cultural landscape that was so obviously broken. The resulting veneer of detachment logically flourished in war-ravaged France, and was the basis for Neoclassical music. By using musical forms that had been popularized hundreds of years earlier—such as the sonata—in conjunction with modern musical language, composers hoped to add a level of irony to their music. In many cases, Baroque or Classical counterpoint techniques would be married with twentieth-century harmonies, with the result being a music that focused on individual lines as much as it did an overall sound.
While the two styles used strikingly different palettes, they both featured an emphasis on small details that made each musical brush stroke vital. In Impressionism, it was often small changes in tone color that were used to denote changes in the emotion being depicted. Neoclassicism stressed clean, coherent writing that focused on the effect that could be had by small gestures.
The opening movement sets the stage for the entire work, both formally and thematically. It is in a standard sonata form, with a statement, development, and recapitulation that would fit perfectly in Mozart’s time. From this point the quartet moves to a scherzo and a rhapsodic third movement followed by a dance-finale with a stilted modern rhythm. It is not just a Classical structure that unifies the work, however. The themes heard in the first movement—especially the one that begins the work—come back in different guises throughout the rest of the piece. For example, the pizzicato strings of the second movement are playing an idea derived from the first theme, and the third movement can be heard as an almost improvisatory take on the first movement’s melodic material.
Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart (1756-1791)Quintet in A Major for clarinet and strings, K. 581 (1789)
Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart first encountered the clarinet, then a relatively new instrument, in London as early as 1764. It did not make much of an impression on the young composer. When he heard the instrument again fourteen years later, in 1778, the setting was quite different. This time he heard clarinets played brilliantly in the world-famous orchestra of Mannheim. Mozart remarked to his father, “Alas, if only we also had clarinets!” Soon after, Mozart did indeed have clarinets, played by Anton Stadler and his brother Johann. Anton Stadler must have been an exceptional clarinetist and musician, for Mozart wrote for him three of his greatest masterpieces: the Trio in E-flat Major for clarinet, viola, and piano, called the “Kegelstatt” trio (last performed at CPMF in xxxx); the Clarinet Concerto; and the Quintet in A Major for clarinet and strings, K. 581.
The year 1789 was a difficult and turbulent year for all of Europe and for Mozart in particular. The French Revolution shook Europe—especially Imperial Vienna—to its roots. Mozart was facing financial difficulties, and his wife had been constantly sick. Furthermore, his reputation in Vienna was slipping. However, there is no trace of this trouble in “Stadler’s quintet,” as Mozart called the work. This is music of complete technical mastery and profound emotional depth. The first movement combines elements of chamber music, opera, and concerto in its lyrical expanse. The second movement is a song without words featuring one of the most beautiful melodies Mozart ever wrote. The third movement, a Minuetto with two trios, evokes the feeling of the Austrian countryside. The finale, a theme with five variations, ranges from athletic virtuosity to soaring intensity to jaunty good humor.
Aleksandr Konstantinovich Glazunov (1865-1936)String Quintet in A Major, op. 39 (1891-92)
In 1899, Glazunov was appointed professor at the St. Petersburg Conservatory, a post he was to keep for 30 years, the last 24 as director of the institution. He was able to keep the Conservatory afloat and thriving through the tremendous political upheavals of the time—the Revolution of 1905, World War I, and the October Revolution (the Bolshevik Revolution) of 1917. As director of the Conservatory, he worked ceaselessly to improve the curriculum and the standards of students and faculty. He began an opera studio and a student orchestra, and was known to have great concern for the neediest students, among them Shostakovich.
The String Quintet in A Major, op. 39, was written for two violins, viola, and two cellos, the same combination of instruments at Schubert’s great string quintet. Most string quintets are written for two violins, two violas, and one cello; but in the Schubert and Glazunov quintets the additional cello creates a depth and richness of sound that a two-viola quintet cannot match. The work was written in 1891-92, when Glazunov was 26 years old.
Johannes Brahms (1833-1897)String Quintet in F Major, Op. 88 (1882)
In December 1782, Mozart wrote a letter to his father describing some new piano concertos he had written:
The combination of sophistication and accessibility that Mozart describes is a hard one to beat. It is also very hard to achieve: only the greatest composers—composers like Haydn, Mozart, and Beethoven—are able to simultaneously challenge and charm an audience. Their music maintains the highest levels of craftsmanship and yet remains unhampered in its melodic and harmonic invention, spontaneity, and excitement. Of all the composers of the nineteenth century, Johannes Brahms comes closest to the ideal that Mozart espoused. Listen to his music for the first time and you will be moved; listen to it for the hundredth time and you will find depths you did not know existed.
Despite the enormous importance of Schubert’s music in his life, Brahms chose to follow the Mozartean model for this quintet: two violins, two violas, and one cello, rather than two violins, one viola, and two cellos as Schubert had used. Nevertheless, the work opens with a directness of lyrical expression that would have made Schubert proud. The leisurely way in which the themes proceed is also reminiscent of Schubert. The second movement, the heart of this work, is one of the most beautiful movements in Brahms. He based this movement on a neo-Baroque sarabande and gavotte he had written in 1855. (Like many such early works, Brahms suppressed the sarabande and gavotte, but copies he had given to friends survived this purge.) The slow and profound sarabande alternates with the faster, more buoyant gavotte, giving the effect of a slow movement and a scherzo wrapped into one. After this rich movement based on two Baroque dances, Brahms continues with his Baroque references: his finale begins with what seems to be a fugal exposition. Fugues typically denote learnedness, but here the mood is one of good-humored boisterousness. Brahms’ biographer Max Kalbeck wrote that “the spiritually shadowed Mater Dolorosa of his Adagio, which bears the scherzo in her womb, must give birth to world-vanquishing humor as Savior in the finale.” Sophistication and accessibility—an unbeatable combination.
Gideon Klein (1919-1944)String Trio (1944)
Olivier Messiaen wrote the Quartet for the End of Time while in a German prisoner of war camp. German officers at the camp encouraged performances by the prisoners because of their sincere interest in music. Gideon Klein wrote his String Trio in 1944 in the Theresienstadt concentration camp. The Nazis allowed Jews in the Theresienstadt camp to engage in cultural activities as part of an elaborate farce designed to dispel rumors about extermination camps.
At least four concert orchestras existed in the camp as well as chamber groups and jazz ensembles. Stage performances and operas were given. The conductor Rafael Schächter conducted fifteen performances of Verdi’s Requiem in the camp before he was deported to Auschwitz.
Osvaldo Golijov (b. 1960)The Dreams and Prayers of Isaac the Blind for klezmer clarinet and string quartet (1994)
Isaac’s lifelong devotion to his art is as striking as that of string quartets and klezmer musicians. In their search for something that arises from tangible elements but transcends them, they are all reaching a state of communion. Gershom Scholem, the preeminent scholar of Jewish mysticism, says that “Isaac and his disciples do not speak of ecstasy, of a unique act of stepping outside oneself in which human consciousnes abolishes itself. Debhequth (communion) is a constant state, nurtured and renewed through meditation.” If communion is not the reason, how else would one explain the strange life that Isaac led, or the decades during which groups of four souls dissolve their individuality into single, higher organisms, called string quartets? How would one explain the chain of klezmer generations that, while blessing births, weddings, and burials, were trying to discover the melody that could be set free from itself and become only air, spirit, ruakh?
The prelude and the first movement simultaneously explore two prayers in different ways: The quartet plays the first part of the central prayer of the High Holidays, “We will observe the mighty holiness of this day…,” while the clarinet dreams the motifs from “Our Father, Our King’.” The second movement is based on “The Old Klezmer Band,” a traditional dance tune, which is surrounded here by contrasting manifestations of its own halo. The third movement was written before all the others. It is an instrumental version of K’Vakarat, a work that I wrote a few years ago for Kronos and Cantor Misha Alexandrovich. The meaning of the word klezmer: instrument of song, becomes clear when one hears David Krakauer’s interpretation of the cantor’s line. This movement, together with the postlude, bring to conclusion the prayer left open in the first movement: “…Thou pass and record, count and visit, every living soul, appointing the measure of every creature’s life and decreeing its destiny’.”
Alan Shulman (1915-2002)Rendezvous (“Rendezvous with Benny”) for clarinet and string quartet (1946)
In 1938, Shulman and his brother Sylvan founded the Stuyvesant String Quartet. The quartet was noted for its performances of new music, including the American premiere of the Shostakovich Piano Quintet. They won a prestigious recording contract with Columbia records, releasing recordings of quartets by Malipiero, Debussy, Ravel, and Bloch. Musicologist Tully Potter said of the quartet:
In 1946, the famed “King of Swing” Benny Goodman invited the quartet to perform for his weekly radio program “Homecoming Stars.” Goodman asked to play a movement of the Mozart clarinet quintet. Shulman suggested instead that he write an original work for clarinet and string quartet, knowing that Goodman had already commissioned works from many great composers (including Bartók and Copland). Goodman readily agreed. In August of 1946, Benny Goodman and the Stuyvesant Quartet premiered “Rendezvous with Benny” over WEAF radio. The work later became Rendezvous for clarinet and string quartet.
Erich Wolfgang Korngold (1897-1957)String Sextet in D Major, Op. 10 for 2 violins, 2 violas & 2 cellos
Austrian composer Erich Wolfgang Korngold was one of the greatest child prodigies in the history of music, perhaps only rivaled by Mendelssohn. As many commentators have noted, Mozart’s early works are remarkable because they were written at the age of five or six, but judged as music, they are not of much substance. Mendelssohn’s early works, however, are masterful. And Korngold’s works from the very beginning show a composer with a complete grasp of the complexities of late nineteenth-century music. Gustav Mahler heard the ten-year-old Korngold’s cantata Gold and declared him a genius. Richard Strauss, Artur Schnabel, Giacomo Puccini, Alexander Zemlinsky, Arnold Schoenberg, Jean Sibelius, Bruno Walter, and many others were similarly impressed—and envious in some cases.
“I hear you’re playing Korngold’s Sonata. Is it rewarding?” “No, but his father is!”
After the rise of the National Socialist Party, the Jewish Korngold found his European career somewhat restricted. He left for America in 1934 and settled in Los Angeles to work on a film project with the legendary director and producer Max Reinhardt. It was the beginning of a new, lucrative career for Korngold. He produced numerous film scores over the years, the most famous of which was his 1938 Oscar-winning score to The Adventures of Robin Hood starring Errol Flynn. Korngold is considered one of the founders of film music, and his film scores are still noted for their extraordinary quality.
Sadly, Korngold’s success in the film industry led many musicians to dismiss his concert music, and he died in Hollywood having fallen out of favor. Only recently have his concert works been re-assessed and featured on programs. Audiences have come to recognize what the critic Josef Reitler wrote of the first performance of the sextet: “From the very first bar, Erich Wolfgang Korngold’s signature is unmistakable. Of the composers alive today, apart from Strauss, there can be no one who writes as personally and as individually as he.”